Growth debate: Ideas, not conflict
Sustainable economy or sustainable environment? You mean I have to choose? A pretty scary thought, with a consequence-laden outcome no matter what the choice, wouldn’t you say?
Listening to the pundits over the years, from Henry David Thoreau’s time right up to the present moment, might lead us to think that a choice has to be made. Our societies have become polarized on this topic, as on so many others, over the years as we come to grips with the inescapable reality of limited resources. It’s been described as a battle between the economy and the environment, with the extreme ends of the opinion spectrum taking positions and increasing the polarization. The fact is, you can’t have one without the other.
Oh, wait! There is a way to have a sustainable environment without a sustainable economy. Just remove humanity completely from the face of the earth, and within a few generations (of rats, I suppose), our cities will look like the Mayan ruins. No economy at all, just like that. Maybe a comet or an asteroid would get it done, but it’s not something we can plan for or reasonably propose, although some have. It wouldn’t last, anyway; we’d be back!
And I suppose one could picture a sustainable economy without a sustainable environment. Just imagine a world composed of cornfields, rice paddies and cattle feedlots, competing with our need for housing and industrial/ business space as the billions increase. Who needs an environment when we have such a bustling economy? We can keep paving and plowing until the entire planet is brought under economic control. Not a reasonable proposal, although it has been made.
Well, we’re about as likely to put up with that as with the comet! Clearly, this is a global issue and possibly the most important one we face as stewards of our world. We are fortunate here in Nevada County to have an economy and an environment that are both in pretty good shape and, for the moment at least, in pretty good sync with each other. We are also extremely fortunate to have as citizens of our county some extremely dedicated and creative people from all bands of the spectrum of thought.
What an opportunity that presents us! All the pieces are at hand for us to assemble into an example of responsible growth that could serve as a guidepost and model for our contemporaries around the world and for our children and their children as we seek a healthy balance in our stewardship.
The question isn’t “Shall we allow growth?” because growth is a fact; there’s no stopping it short of reducing global population growth to zero or below. That’s an important topic in its own right, but probably not something we can influence at the local level.
The question is “How shall we allow growth?” in recognition of or in ignorance of the facts we face. When we look back in 20 years, or 50, will we be able to stand up and say “Look what we have built” with some pride and dignity? Or will we avert our eyes and ask, “Who built that?” Everything we build, from policies to regulations to actual projects, is subject to these questions.
We already have a few examples of “Who built that?”available for all to see, and we are currently dealing with the consequences in terms of traffic flow and housing affordability, among others. We also have numerous examples of “Look what we have built” that should be very encouraging to all.
The real challenge we face is to bring together all the tools and resources available to us – starting with our dedicated people from all bands of the spectrum of thought – and create some kind of vision that isn’t in outright denial of the facts we face. It’s time to put an end to the polarization in our community that causes the pendulum of human activity to swing repeatedly between the extremes of the political spectrum with each local election. We should do away with the “politics of division” and instead practice the “Politics of Da Vision”! That would surely result in freeing us from the bonds of conflict that are currently inhibiting our vision and our ability to make healthy choices.
There have been fences built in our community, across which rocks are thrown. What if we made the fences into tables and threw some ideas around instead?
Paul Sieving of Grass Valley is a Realtor, treasurer of the Nevada County Board of Realtors, a board member of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council, and a board chair of the Grass Valley/ Nevada County Chamber of Commerce. Comments and thoughts are welcome at Paul@PaulSieving.com.
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